BY GAYLE SARAN
South Whidbey Record
FREELAND — A new billiards hall will cue up on the South End next month.
Houdini’s Billiards will open for business Jan. 2 in the business park in Freeland behind the new Windermere office, across the street from the Island Athletic Club.
Mike Dolan and wife Tina Jarvis of Freeland decided to open a pool hall after talking about the concept for more than a decade.
“It was time to put up or shut up and quit talking about it,” Dolan said.
They actually wrote a business plan in 1995. Dolan estimates they have invested $75,000 to open their new business, and they are busy now remodeling and moving into the 26,000-square-foot building.
Dolan and Jarvis wanted to open a pool hall, partly because of Dolan’s lifelong interest in the game and because of a growing trend in popularity for billiard games.
Dolan began playing pool when he was 17, and ran pool tournaments in the 1970s at PG Pockets in Federal Way.
In fact, Dolan earned the nickname “Houdini” from his teammates during his competitive pool playing days because he could get out of tight places on the pool table.
“In pool, your opponent tries to set up impossible shots. I usually maneuvered my way out of them,” he said.
The new business houses nine pocket tables of varying sizes covered in green cloth. Each has traditional lighting — three lights on a single rod — that bathe the tables in light. With nine tables, Dolan says there is a table to match everyone’s playing experience.
“Two 7-foot tables are for younger players with a desire for fast action, five 8-foot table for players who enjoy playing on a regulation-sized table, and two 9-foot tables for those who want to experience a professional playing surface,” Dolan explained.
Dolan said he installed Simonis 860 cloth on the tables, which is very tightly woven wool with a smooth surface.
“This allows the ball to roll faster and makes the game more difficult,” he said. Dolan explained less expensive cloth has varying degrees of nap, which slow the balls.
“I chose the dark green color because it is a standard for commercial establishments,” he said.
“Most tables, like mine, have a three-piece, 1-inch slate bed — except for the two 9-foot pro tables, which have a 1½ inches of slate to make the tables even more stable once they have been leveled,” Dolan said.
He will offer lessons at the pool hall for players of all abilities and plans to arrange tournaments. Cost of a table rental is $7 per hour; lessons are $30.
Group rates are also available.
“We plan on having both eight-ball and nine-ball tournaments, plus an in-house league with several teams,” Dolan said.
Dolan said his new business should appeal to a wide range of ages.
“I’m hoping to find a few kids who will come in here and take an interest in the game,” he said.
“Young adults can come here for a date night and families will find it a fun experience. They will be able to rent a table for an hour or two and enjoy a game of pool,” he said.
“We think people of all ages will enjoy spending some time at Houdini’s.”
Dolan and Jarvis expect to have a snack bar license to serve pre-prepared food like burritos and Philly cheese sandwiches.
Dolan said they will also serve soda pop, coffee, water and beer.
Dolan said pool has, like many sports, had its up and downs.
Since the 1980s, however, there has been a resurgence of interest as many pool room owners have built more expensive centers.
“With the advent of $1 million rooms, coupled with no smoking, there has been an increase in the number of rooms in the Northwest aimed at the young urban professional crowd,” he said.
Dolan cited as an example, a new facility in Bellevue that attracts this growing population.
“We expect to see a broader age spectrum at Houdini’s, reflecting the island’s population demographics,” he said.
Dolan said only time will tell if the venture will be successful.
“We studied the demographics and think Freeland is the best location on the island,” Dolan said. “The proof will be in the checkbook.”
Gayle Saran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.